Carers Rights Day 2016 is on Friday 25 November and brings together organisations to help carers across the country. Sarah shares her story about caring for her partner, James, as part of this year's event.

Tell us about yourself

I’m 41 and live in London. James and I have been together for seven years and have lived together, on and off, for the last six years. We have now been living together for nearly three years and are undergoing IVF treatment.

What issues or challenges have you faced as carer?

Although James told me about his bipolar before we started dating, I could never have understood what that meant or what he had endured in his life as a result of it. Knowing where to find information and support, for both him and me, proved to be a huge challenge. Understanding what the impact of bipolar would have on him, me and us took years. I have also struggled to differentiate between various traits and the bipolar itself: is sleeping for four days in a row lazy or necessary? Is drinking two bottles of whisky and blaming it on being hyper a reasonable thing or do I live with an alcoholic? Am I really being selfish to suggest that he gets outside help to make our relationship easier or is he just avoiding the issue?

As a role of a carer/supporter is there anything significant that you felt was helpful to your loved one?

I’ll never get it right, but what has helped enormously is my giving up trying to ‘cure’ him.

Talking to friends about James' behaviour often helps me to identify changes in his behaviour. If, for example, I’m furious about something he’s said or done, it often takes a friend to ask about how he is – is he hyper? Having that sounding board has often protected him from my wrath or confusion.

How do you look after your own health and wellbeing?

When things are challenging at home, I detach myself from James and focus on the life I make for myself, with friends and family. I’m not sure this is the ‘correct’ thing to do, but I have learned to put myself first. I have been very open with friends and family about the challenges we face and their support and understanding has proved key to the success of our relationship. I could not do this alone. I also volunteer to contribute to as much research as possible – talking about my situation is cathartic and makes me reflect on the challenges we face, often seeing how strong James is to overcome his bipolar, as he does and how much it takes out of me to manage it.

What advice would you give to other family members / carers?

Don’t be embarrassed by your situation. Try to get your loved one to agree to you speaking with other people; it may be that it is inappropriate to discuss with some people, such as colleagues or other family members, but there must be a safe audience for you to share your story with and get help and support from.

If you're a carer and need information or support, take a look at our services here.

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